May 1 on the central coast: activists demand justice for workers, BIPOC communities

On May 1, Princess Nokia’s song “Brown Girl Blues” echoed throughout Mission Plaza, its lyrics sounding like lyrics filling the place with graphic images of the adversary and abuse of people of color in the United States. .

“Do you think it’s been a long time since civil rights? »The words read. “No, our people still have to come out and fight. “

About 50 people gathered in front of the steps of the Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa on Saturday, May 1, where speakers acknowledged the genocide of indigenous peoples there centuries before.

May 1 is an annual celebration of workers’ rights that emerged from the 19th century labor movement that advocated for policies such as the eight-hour work day in the United States.

The May Day rally organized by Abolitionist Action Central Coast / SLO (AACCS) was intended to recognize these labor movements while reaffirming the group’s solidarity with feminist, anti-colonial and popular movements around the world.

Carmen Bouquin, member of AACCS, said their aim was to disrupt the downtown environment not as “direct action” but to “signal that we are still here”.

The rally focused on anti-capitalist ideas, with several speakers explaining how a capitalist system exploits workers.

“Why can only a privileged few afford those things that help us survive and make them richer?” A speaker who identified himself as Ariel asked. “Why are they also going to pay us as little as possible so that they can earn as much as possible?” “

Many speakers called for an end to a capitalist economy, suggesting a community economy alternative that centralizes communities in the economy, not capitalism.

“We will continue to resist,” Ariel said.

Audio by Alexa Kushner

Chuy Caracoles, member of the central coast militant group SBSLO Alliance, shared the story of the Zapatistas in southern Mexico.

The Zapatistas are a group of mainly rural natives who hold territory in the state of Chiapas, in southern Mexico. By fighting neoliberal policies – such as deregulation and cutting state spending – and returning control of local resources to indigenous peoples, Bouquin says the group has reworked the way people perceive work.

Caracoles quoted an excerpt from a Zapatista manifesto, which read: “We will seek and find those who love these lands and skies as much as we do. … We are going for democracy, freedom and justice for those of us who have been deprived of it.

A group of Chumash women from Ventura spoke about the genocide and abuse of indigenous peoples through the mission system, as well as the continuing challenges indigenous peoples face with regard to their sovereignty.

“We’re not asking for everything,” said a Chumash woman who identified herself as Marianne. “We’re just asking for something.”

With disproportionately high rates of rape, suicides, lack of permanent housing and the growing hardship that Chumash women still face, Marianne said there were about 200 years left before the peace for which the indigenous peoples are still fighting today.

At the end of her speech, a leader shouted “who is the earth? To which the crowd replied with “the land of Chumash”.

The complex issues encompassed by May 1 also translate directly into the California State University (CSU) system, as Cal Poly history professor Lewis Call explained.

Call, who is union president of the San Luis Obispo branch of the California Faculty Association, said CSU, especially Cal Poly, is increasingly being privatized as it is conceived of as a “popular university.”

Call said state funding has declined as CSUs rely more on tuition fees, while the number of working-class students and students of color enrolled increases.

Meanwhile, Call said, the salary of CSU chancellor Joseph Castro is $ 625,000 per year and that of Cal Poly president Jeffrey Armstrong is $ 450,000 per year.

“Take over the popular university – take over Cal Poly,” Bouquin said.

Bouquin, who herself works as a farm laborer in Santa Margarita, also focused on the issue of the exploitation of farm laborers on the central coast.

“We want to educate farm workers in our region, especially since the city of San Luis Obispo is so oblivious to what is going on in the surrounding towns,” Bouquin said. “We are trying to make the case that agricultural workers are underpaid and completely forgotten, and that they also completely work our economy here. “

Speakers called on people to educate those around them, support local businesses, organize, organize their own rental properties, support public education and more. Although Bouquin says the alternative is unknown, the group has pushed for continued collective action to create cooperative systems beyond capitalism.

Kaela Lee, head of business administration, said she attended the May 1 rally to show her support in numbers and allow people’s voices to be heard. Yet they said that “the people who need to be listening” were not there.

“I feel like the frustrating part is that the people who should be listening aren’t coming,” Lee said. “The people who already know what is being said and who are really educated on this subject are the ones who show up every time. “

Caracoles, on behalf of the SBSLO Alliance, called on whites in particular to come forward and take action.

“Don’t let the BIPOC – Blacks, Indigenous people, people of color – fight these battles that your ancestors started,” Caracoles said.

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Estelle D. Eden

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